Caitlin Clark leads Iowa to Final Four with win over LSU

ALBANY — Caitlin Clark was in the middle of pregame warm=ups, when Angel Reese stepped on the court and stood at the sideline, placing the sport’s two biggest stars in each other’s sights.

As Clark readied to shoot, Reese placed her signature sparkling crown on the LSU bench.

Then, the queen of college basketball made the champs bow before her.

Caitlin Clark and Iowa advanced to the Final Four with their win against LSU. Getty Images

In a rematch of last year’s record-breaking national title game — in one of the most-anticipated games in the history of the sport — Clark left MVP Arena with a mesmerizing performance befitting her legend, scoring 41 points (9 of 20 on 3-pointers), with 12 assists, seven rebounds and two steals to knock off LSU, 94-87, and avenge the most devastating loss of her career and bring Iowa back to the Final Four.

The No. 1 Hawkeyes (33-4) will face the winner of Monday’s other regional final — No. 1 USC vs. No. 3 UConn — on Friday in Cleveland. No. 3 LSU (31-6), led by Reese’s 17 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks, became the seventh straight champion that failed to repeat.

Threatened with her final game in black and gold, Clark had no intention of letting the game come to her.

She grabbed it by the throat. She opened the game with a 3. She added another, following a crossover that left LSU’s Last-Tear Poa stumbling.

Caitlin Clark and Iowa overcame a five-point deficit after the first quarter to defeat LSU on Monday. USA TODAY Sports

She threw one beautiful backdoor pass after another, pushing the pace and igniting the pro-Hawkeyes crowd, with an early 15-6 lead.

Iowa opened 7 of 9 from the field, with Clark — who had a 41-point triple-double in last year’s Elite Eight — producing eight points and three assists in less than four minutes.

Reese met the moment, too, using her length to overwhelm the undersized Iowa frontline.

The double-teams came frequently, and Reese responded quickly, finding Tigers for wide-open 3s and spinning for easy looks.

She owned the blocks and the glass, an advantage LSU repeatedly exploited.

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Angel Reese and LSU fell short of returning to another Final Four. Getty Images

The stars who refused to feed into the hype delivered on it.

It was Hagler and Hearns, making the opening minutes feel like the climax. Clark drove by Reese. Reese picked off a pass from Clark and went coast-to-coast.

An audible gasp from the arena came early in the second quarter, when Reese fouled Clark on a drive and the LSU star hopped to the bench, holding her right leg.

Angel Reese scores two of her points for LSU in their Elite Eight loss to Iowa. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

She remained there, pacing, trying to kill the pain through will, before deciding to return to the floor.

The Tigers closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run and stretched the lead, 34-26, but the best perimeter shooting team in the nation responded from deep.

The teams treated every shot, every whistle, every possession, like it swung the game. Because it had the potential to. Because it was the rare night in the ring with a fighter who hit just as hard.

After all that, the scoreboard scored it a draw, at 45, at halftime. Clark had 19 points and five assists. Reese had 13 points and eight rebounds.

The second half opened the same as the first, with Clark hitting a 3.

She went behind the back before she hit her next. Her fourth 3-pointer of the third quarter came over Reese, giving Iowa a nine-point lead and Clark 31 of the team’s 61 points.

The Hawkeyes soon stretched the lead to 13 as LSU opened 2 of 17 from the field in the quarter.

The Tigers stayed within reach, owning a 22-6 edge on the offensive glass, until the greatest scorer in Division I history delivered a pair of fourth-quarter 3s, which prompted her to scream to the crowd and pound her chest.

Soon after, Reese fouled out and walked to the sideline, where she watched the final minutes.

The champs were dead. The crowd erupted. Clark dribbled out the final seconds, with a smile that could stretch to Iowa City, and threw the ball to her brother in the stands.

Long live the queen.

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